Loyola’s path to Final Four open with top 4 seeds out of South Regional

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Ben Richardson reacts in the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Loyola has made it clear that the team won’t quit until the last buzzer sounds, and that might not happen for another week.

There are only two roadblocks in the way of the Ramblers’ first Final Four appearance since 1963, which looks more promising than it did on Selection Sunday.

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When the committee unveiled the bracket, Loyola’s road to the Sweet 16 seemed challenging, reaching the Elite Eight appeared to be a futile endeavor and making the Final Four was a near impossibility. Even Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt had her beloved Ramblers losing in the Sweet 16.

But with the four highest seeds out, the South Regional is wide open. If the Ramblers get by seventh-seeded Nevada on Thursday, they’ll face either No. 9 Kansas State or No. 5 Kentucky.

Of the three, only Nevada was ranked in the last Associated Press poll, at No. 22, though Kentucky was just 20 points short of 25th. Loyola’s two tournament victories have come against ranked teams.

If the Ramblers win two more games, they’ll become only the fourth 11th seed to make the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and the first team to do it since VCU in 2011.

Loyola, which has won 12 consecutive games and 19 of its last 20, is the hottest team still alive in the NCAA Tournament. And with the help of their 98-year-old basketball-loving chaplain, the Ramblers have captivated the country with their Cinderella story. 

As Loyola enters its first Sweet 16 since 1985, coach Porter Moser is even more optimistic that anything can happen, especially after the 15 upsets in the first two rounds.

“[I’m] never surprised with March Madness,” Moser said. “I never am. It’s always about that one game in front of you. It’s why it’s called madness. There are huge upsets all over the place.”

But like in all of their previous games, Loyola’s focal point is on their next opponent: Nevada.

The Wolf Pack ranks 16th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 83 points per game, but the Ramblers have allowed an average of 62 points per game, fifth in the nation.

Both teams are efficient on the perimeter. Loyola is shooting 39.8 percent from beyond the arc and Nevada 39.6 percent.

The Ramblers are 3-0 against ranked teams this season, and despite being undersized against Power Five conference foes, Loyola has proved its mettle.

Moser has recited to his team countless times the opening line of one of his favorite books, Good to Great.

“Good is the evil of great,” Moser explained. “We’ve been talking about that all year. Yes, we’re good. But we don’t want to be satisfied. Complacency is a byproduct of success. Sometimes people get successful and they get complacent.”

The Ramblers are far from content. Just ask junior Marques Townes.

“I don’t think we’re the top dogs at all,” Townes said. “We’re still chasing. We’re not being hunted. We’re the hunters. We’re still chasing after something. I know this team has something really special, but I don’t think we’re done yet. Just like our motto: No finish line. We’re not ready to go home yet.”

Follow me on Twitter @madkenney.

Email: mkenney@suntimes.com

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